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Scottdale VFD swift water rescue team always ready for action

| Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

Members of the Scottdale Volunteer Fire Department recently had to spring into action in Donegal as flood waters ran high and township residents were trapped in vehicles and their homes.

Those members who took on that duty are involved with the Scottdale VFD's swift water rescue team. Ten members of the department are certified to perform such tasks, while 10 others are in various stages of training to become members of the swift water rescue team.

“We started diving back in the late (1980s), so we had a dive team first,” explained “Buzzy” Myers, fire department chief. “We used to go out with just our wet suits on and to do rescues not really in the swift waters we do now, but into flood zones and that kind of stuff. It was sort of a natural progression from the diving to the swift water, because we were basically already doing it, but we just didn't call it swift water yet.”

Once swift water rescue teams began throughout Westmoreland County, members of the Scottdale department started to train and established the team within the last 10 years. Myers said the squad is probably called into action about five to 10 times a year.

“We do a lot of assists,” added Dave Wendell, first assistant chief. “(Recently), we took Allegheny Power personnel to their poles.”

A fallen tree knocked the emergency fires down causing the pole to fall into a flooded area.

To attain certification to be what is termed a technician, the price tag is about $1,000, plus another $2,000 or so is needed to for equipment.

Equipment includes a swift water dry suit, type 5 life jacket, a more durable boot for using in rivers or on rocks, hoods, gloves and helmets with sports a light.

Myers said the team is typically called out at night. The team also has an underwater camera.

The chief added said there are four levels of training to reach the technician stage: basic Water Rescue for Emergency Response (WRER), rope rescue, self rescue and boat.

“The county started a team and it kind of fell apart and they started the regional teams,” Myers explained. “We're part of Region 13 swift water. If anybody needs us we just gear up.”

Swift water rescue involves the use of specially trained personnel, ropes and mechanical advantage systems that are often much more robust than those used in standard rope rescue due to the added pressure of moving water. The main goal is to use or deflect the water's power to assist in the rescue of the endangered person(s).

Members of the department were deployed to Bloomsburg to aid in the recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“We did quite a few rescues out there,” Myers recalled. “We went into nasty water that you don't see very often. We rescued people out of vehicles. It wasn't just a ride in the boat to a house to say ‘Hey you have to get out,'....It was actually rescuing people. There were people who actually refused to leave their house. When (water) gets up to the second floor, then it's too bad for us to go up. We're not going to kill our guys to save somebody who wouldn't come out in the first place.”

A more recent deployment for the Scottdale swift water rescue team came in the Aug. 28 flooding that hit parts of western Pennsylvania. The team was called to assist the Chestnut Ridge Volunteer Fire Department.

“They originally wanted us to check a couple of houses, because they couldn't account for everybody,” Myers said. “They wanted us to check to make sure nobody was in (houses), because the water was coming up. We started up there, they called and said you might want to step it up we have a child who was playing in the water and we can't find him. We hurried up and got there and just as we pulled in, the kid was over on the other side of the flooded area playing with his dog.”

Myers said his team and members of the Greensburg squad checked houses and didn't find anyone in them and also secured a fuel tank that broke loose and was spilling fuel.

“We work the shores,” Myers said. “We do it safely. That's the main thing. You don't want to see anybody get hurt.”

Having such entities as a dive team and swift water rescue team makes a department even more viable.

“It helps the community,” Myers said. “We try and prevent and stop or help in whatever we can. I don't want to see anybody suffering needlessly for anything.”

“Anything we do like this, I feel, benefits the town,” Wendell added. “It's a win, win situation. If something goes wrong we don't have to wait for other people to come in and help us. We can easily go to work.”

Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or

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